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Should the NHS pay for diet drinks?

It might save taxpayer money, but does it stop people taking responsibility for their health?

Replacing normal food with shakes and soups is appaz really effective. That’s nice, but why should the NHS pay for them?

What it means: Most of us (64 percent of English adults) are overweight, which means we have a BMI (body mass index, our weight divided by our height) of over 25. That’s not so good for us: overweight people die earlier and are more likely to get sick from everything from cancer to diabetes to heart disease. A new weight-loss study says diet drinks should be available on the NHS, at a cost to the government and taxpayer. Is that fair?

Argument one: yes. All those illnesses obesity causes have to be treated - which costs the NHS £6.1 billion a year. That’s a lot of money for a health service that is struggling to make ends meet. If paying for Brits' shakes causes them to lose weight, doctors and nurses will have more time and money to spend on other patients, and/or we won’t have to pay higher taxes to fund the growing expense of the NHS and/or we could spend some of that money on other things lots of us like, such as hiring more police officers or building new roads.

Argument two: no. Most obesity is caused by personal choice (eating too much, exercising too little) and taxpayers shouldn’t cushion people from the consequences of their bad decisions. Rather than helping overweight people diet, the NHS should refuse to treat people whose illnesses are caused by their weight. Instead, overweight people would have to take out private health insurance, which would be more expensive the more unhealthy they were. That gives them a money incentive to lose weight.

The thing with argument two is that it would be unfair to make overweight people pay for their own healthcare without putting the same restrictions on other people who make risky decisions about their health - smokers, say, or motorcross fans. And because most of us do something risky, the obvious end point would be to jack in the current NHS free-at-the-point-of-delivery model and tell everyone to have health insurance instead (as lots of other countries do).

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